The Iraqi president today raised objections to the planned execution of Saddam Hussein’s former defence minister, who is due to be hanged with two other former regime officials for their roles in a massacre of Kurds.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said former Defence Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai deserved to be spared because he had been carrying out orders under threat of death by Saddam and because he had engaged in unofficial contact with the Kurdish community under the ousted regime.
Earlier this week, an Iraqi appeals court upheld the death sentences imposed against al-Tai, along with Ali Hassan al-Majid, who gained the nickname “Chemical Ali” after poison gas attacks on Kurdish towns in the 1980s, and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces.
All three were convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in June for their role in the brutal crackdown that killed up to 180,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas two decades ago known as Operation Anfal.
Under Iraqi law, the appeals court decision must be ratified by Talabani and Iraq’s two vice presidents.
Talabani has said he is opposed to the death penalty. But he previously deputised Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite Muslim, to sign execution orders on his behalf.
The Iraqi president said, however, that he would not support the decision against al-Tai.
“Personally, I will not support executing Sultan Hashim,” he said at a news conference in Sulaimaniyah, a city in the autonomous Kurdish region 160 miles north-east of Baghdad.
“If the court will carry out its verdicts without referring them to the presidency council that is something else,” he said.
“But if they will refer them, then we will register reservations these verdicts.”
He said the reservations would include executing former Iraqi army officers because many of them had been forced to implement orders by death threats, although he stressed that did not justify their crimes against the Iraqi people.
“But a character like Sultan Hashim, with whom we had contacts during Saddam Hussein’s era, is something else. We were urging him to work against the government, so how can I now vote for his execution. I will never ever do that,” Talabani said.
The Iraqi High Tribunal upheld the death sentences in a majority decision on Tuesday, and appellate court judge Munir Hadad said the government must carry out the executions within a 30-day period.
Prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi said only that the executions had to be approved by the government and the president’s office.
“If there is a law that exempts Sultan Hashim from execution, we are with this law,” al-Moussawi said.
Defence lawyer Badee Izzat Aref said his clients had informed him that they believe the executions will occur next week before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins and they wanted to meet their families beforehand.
He also complained that the government was planning to carry out the punishment without Talabani’s approval.
The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party also said Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi had sent letters to the government appealing for the execution to be stopped if Talabani does not sign the order. The party said a parliamentary advisory council had reaffirmed that such a decision would not be legal.
Al-Tai negotiated the cease-fire than ended the 1991 Gulf War, when a US-led coalition drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.